As provinces deem EV charging essential, infrastructure providers work to maintain business as usual
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EV Charging
Apr 13, 2020
Emma Jarratt

With their operations still moving ahead in Canada’s biggest provinces, EV network providers face their first “real test” amid the chaos of COVID-19

A technician replaces a component in a DC fast charger. Image from file, source: ABB

With their operations still moving ahead in Canada’s biggest provinces, EV network providers face their first “real test” amid the chaos of COVID-19

Essential services declarations by provincial government leaders have become a staple of Canadians’ news diet. While obvious items like health care and food services top the list, the EV industry recently won critical recognition when British Columbia, Ontario and Québec all designated electric vehicle charging infrastructure as essential in their COVID-19 emergency measures legislation.

“This is really the first test of the EV industry in Canada to be seen as a reliable transportation ‘fuel’ provider,” says Mike Wenzlaff, BC Hydro’s EV senior program manager.

Not surprisingly, it takes a village — from providers to network owners — to keep the power supply chain going while meeting the current stringent workplace restrictions and regulations.

But what exactly does keeping things “business as usual” entail?

Continuity in mind

Nimbleness and adaptability are at the core of the EV industry. And taking a curveball like COVID in stride will solidify the industry’s reputation as a dynamic and reliable transportation option.

“Our systems were designed with business continuity and robustness in mind,” says Travis Allan, vice-president, public affairs and general counsel at charging network provider FLO

“Our customer service team was actually able to work from home even before we officially required employees who could, to work remotely. One of the ways we deal with maintenance is actually preventative…with the ability to do remote firmware updates. This reduces the intensity and frequency of maintenance calls, which is turning out to be a clear advantage for us.”

In those instances where in-person maintenance visits are required to any of the FLO network’s 5,500 commercial stations, a focus is ensuring proper vehicle sanitation and physical distancing.

BC Hydro is “splitting crews into ‘pods’ of no more than five employees who work together in a given geographical area,” says spokesperson Tanya Fish. This practice helps avoid worker overlap.

Other companies are employing tactics like a one-person-per-truck policy, staggered start times and disinfecting treatments in between shifts.

Keep calm and charge on

There is also a role for customers to play in keeping EV service running smoothly. 

The advice from providers and networks is to continue with normal habits, including plugging in at off-peak hours, when possible, and emphasizing charging at home.

But if essential travel takes you out of isolation, most public chargers across Canada are open. The networks just ask users to wipe down equipment, wash their hands before and after use and maintain distance from other EV drivers plugging in.

“Electric vehicle travel and charging are an essential part of everyday life now,” Electrify Canada says in a statement emailed to Electric Autonomy Canada.

Like a number of providers with plans to expand their networks in 2020, Electrify Canada is now having to deal with added uncertainty on that front. But existing operations are operating as normal. “For those needing to travel to loved ones or for essential jobs, our charging stations remain open,” it says.

Predictability an asset

Against the backdrop of COVID, the EV sector — from power generators to car chargers — is proving its imperviousness to external forces.

“With electric cars we have some predictability,” says Wilf Steimle, president of the Electric Vehicle Society.  Drivers of gasoline-powered cars, by comparison, are at the mercy of external influences such as yo-yoing gas prices that alternately infuriate and excite them.

“That’s an element that needs to be recognized in all of this.”

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